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Comptia's 2006 "total expenses" (budget) was $36.49 million. The average compensation in 2006 for a CEO/executive of any nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, including hospitals and universities, with a budget (or expenses) of $25 million to $50 million was $274,610, according to GuideStar.
To compare Comptia to a like-sized publicly held company, New Horizons Worldwide CEO Mark Miller, who heads New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, received a pay package in 2008 of $862,569 for running a company that posted $37.2 million in sales.
The next highest annual salary behind Venator's for technology industry associations in 2006 was CTIA -- The Wireless Association. Compensation for its CEO, Stephen Largent, amounted to $960,847 for running an association with $53.96 million in total revenue. Largent is followed by Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro at $888,540 for running an association with total revenue of $74.27 million. Then there is American Electronics Association CEO William Archey, who pulled down $669,965 for running an association with $16.72 million in total revenue, and Business Software Alliance CEO Robert Holleyman at $666,588 for running an association with $68.58 million in total revenue.
Comptia Education Foundation Board Member Jim Wittry, formerly an area director for Avnet Technology Solutions, said Venator has not been overcompensated for his contributions to Comptia.
"You have to think about the lifetime value he's brought to the organization and to the client base. There's a lifetime value for some of this compensation. I think the industry has benefitted from this compensation. I think you'll find with salary surveys that Comptia is definitely not overpaying for the performance they got," Wittry said.
Venator said his $1 million bonus was designed and implemented by Comptia's board as a five-year incentive to increase membership. It was approved by then-Chairman David Smith, Venator recalled.
Smith, who was chairman of Comptia in 2003 and 2004, said Venator's employment contract with the $1 million membership increase bonus plan was put in place by a previous chairman and board.
In fact, Smith, who is vice president of services at CompuCom Systems, a Dallas-based solution provider, said he requested an outside independent audit be conducted before the bonus was paid to Venator. "My personal feelings were that it was a lot of money and I wanted to validate it," he said. "That was a lot of the association's money to pay out. Once the audit was done, honestly, I felt better," Smith said.
The audit validated that the membership target had been hit. "The contract didn't specify types of memberships or paying members. All it said was members," he said.
Smith said it may have been "bad judgment on whoever did the contract maybe, but it was in the contract."
Venator's compensation should be looked at in light of his accomplishments throughout his tenure, he said. "You have to go back and look at the whole big picture. Was I happy about paying a $1 million bonus? No," Smith said. "Is John's really unreasonable? That is not for me to say. My thing was to validate that, according to the terms of the contract, we lived up to from our side."
Venator said he and the entire organization were inspired and galvanized by the financial goal and accomplished it in three years' time, securing 12,000 member locations as Comptia's ranks swelled to 20,000. The results were certified by an outside auditor and Venator recalls a sheet cake and champagne celebration. The celebration would be short-lived as Comptia's membership ranks would be condensed to 2,160 as it redefined "membership" as company members. It also did away with "blanket memberships" to organizations like Ingram Micro's VentureTech Network and Tech Data's TechSelect.
Venator said a bonus of that magnitude had never been proposed at Comptia, and he told the board if the target was that important, he needed other Comptia employees to receive incentive bonuses as well, which he said the board approved. "The board knew it and commended me for it," Venator said.
"In my 20 years with the association, I have never gone to the board and requested compensation or bonuses. I've always felt my work speaks for itself," Venator said. "Every year, the board gave me new challenges, whether it was the bottom line or to grow other aspects of the organization. This was one they felt very special about."
Venator believes that the million-dollar bonus was proposed by Mark Romanowski, executive vice president of ASI System Integration, a New York solution provider, when he was on the Comptia board. Romanowski did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him.
The association gave Venator challenges over the years, such as increasing attendance at Breakaway conferences. "Each time, I met those goals," Venator said.
At times, those goals also included increasing revenue from certifications such as A+, a series of tests ranging a wide gamut of technology areas.
But in a conference call with Comptia, Thibodeaux was quick to add that the majority of certifications issued by the association do not go to solution providers, the very individuals Venator was incented to recruit.
"There are a number of school districts, community colleges, IT training companies [that get certifications]. There were benefits for them to be members," Thibodeaux said.
Old Comptia press releases from 2002 to 2007 illustrate how the group marketed its growing global membership base. In 2002, a release notes "more than 8,000 computing and communications companies." The number jumps to 19,000 members in 89 countries in a 2004 release, and then to 20,000 members in a 2005 release. That figure remained in press releases in 2006 and 2007.